Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Art Space Talk: Connie Noyes

Connie Noyes is an award winning painter whose work has been exhibited in galleries in Atlanta, Chicago, Washington, DC, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and abroad in London, Florence, and Malaysia. In the 4th Annual Florence Biennale in 2003, she took a 5th place prize in painting from a field of 500 painters. She has been selected for prestigious residencies, including the Emaar International Art Symposium in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (2005), the Thupelo International Workshop in Cape Town, South Africa (2005) and the 6th Annual International Symposium of Art in Bulgaria (2006). Connie's work is in a number of public and private collections including that of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she earned her MFA.

Which Way is UP? No. 10, beeswax, oil, asphalt on canvas, 24" x 24", 2007

Brian Sherwin: Connie, you earned an MFA at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. Can you tell us about your educational background? Did you have any influential instructors? Also, do you have any advice for artists who are considering the academic study of art?

Connie Noyes: Wow… The Art Institute was a long time ago. I was VERY young. I actually studied photography when I was at SAIC. I never really considered myself a photographer though. My photographs looked more like paintings, very manipulated and the photograph was just a jumping off place or the skeleton of the work. I think at that time I was influenced most by artists like Rauschenberg. I was at SAIC in 1979 and 80 and a retrospective of his work was traveling around the country. I stumbled into it 4 times in different cities.

I also have a degree in psychology and worked as an Art Therapist for 9 years, 4 in private practice seeing mostly adult clients. Training as a therapist has probably impacted me the most in regards to my art. I find my creative process to be very similar to sitting/working with a client in therapy. This training taught me not to be afraid of the chaos in the work, to trust the process, not impose my will, follow the work and stay in the moment...

I started painting in 1998. I was a therapist at the time. I took a class with Larry Robinson who teaches painting and drawing at UC Berkeley as well as in a group studio he runs. .He was a wonderful teacher. He met every student where they were in terms of skill and drive. He was instrumental in helping me find my voice in paint.
Once I began to paint I was on a mission. It is truly a passion and I have never stopped. I closed my private practice in 2001 to pursue art full time. I have never looked back. Someone told me at the time...."making a living from your art will only work if you give yourself no other options." So far this has proven true!

My advice to younger artists: an MFA is helpful. The most important thing I got from it was I how to think about my work and form a cohesive body of work.... to take an idea, a structure a material and push it to the limits. Since I have a bit of ADD, I am currently working on three or four different bodies of work and I still feel there is more for me to learn and explore from each one. I find the most important thing is that I pay attention to the life I am living. This is my best source material. It keeps me and my work honest.

Which Way is UP? No 2, beeswax, oil, asphalt on canvas, 24" x 24", 2007

BS: Connie, my understanding is that you are currently represented only by SFMOMA Artists Gallery, but have been represented by numerous galleries in the past. What advice can you give about the artist/gallery relationship?

CN: Honestly, I haven’t had much luck lately with the galleries who represent me and just let go of a major gallery for reasons I would rather not discuss. Just say, even with a contract, galleries don’t always fulfill their end of the now I am a little gun shy. GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING is my advice. I am still trying to break the code with the gallery scene, so if anyone has any advice for ME, I would love to hear it!!!

Actually, I recently hired an agent in NY to help me figure out where my work belongs and how to get it in front of gallerists, curators etc. who can further my career. Through my agent, I did just begin working with a gallery in Alba Italy--

The SF MOMA Artist Gallery is a different situation entirely. The Gallery was started by Marian Parmenter 30 years ago as a way to support Bay Area Artists. She just retired last year. It is primarily a rental gallery, though sales do happen... often. The Artist Gallery carries the work of over 1200 artists. Everyone who works there is a gem and wonderfully supportive to the artists. I don’t think they have a website. The rental gallery is part of the larger SFMOMA website.
Within the past two years I have been working closely with several art consultants, Soho Myriad in Atlanta, Isabella Trimper outside of New York, Daniel fine Art in Southern California to name a few. The consultants work VERY HARD and these relationships have been much more lucrative financially for me than with the galleries. I also have a more personal relationship with the consultants in the sense that we work closer together to make things happen. Now don’t get me wrong, if there is a gallery who believes in my work and has a strong market for it, well, perfect!!!
Emerge, beeswax, oil and asphalt on canvas, 36" x 72", 2007

BS: In your opinion, what should artists think about when seeking gallery representation?

CN: There are two questions to ask yourself when seeking representation...Do I want to sell my work? Or Do I want to get known? They can be and usually are two very different things, although a good gallery can do both.

If you are wanting to get known, the key is to find venues that get reviewed, gallerists who have connections with important collectors, museums, critics and are willing to promote your work in these places. I am convinced in addition to having good work, it doesn’t hurt to have someone create "buzz" for you. I say that and then I think of this saying we had in grad school... well I won’t repeat it; just say networking is important. Nobody is going to come looking for you. Art Fairs are super important right now internationally. When looking for a gallery I think this is an important consideration right now.

For the past couple of years though, I have been more focused on sales, with the goal being to be self-sufficient as an artist. Though it has been tough financially at times, in general, the market has been really good to me. In addition to Art Consultants, I participate in Open Studios and am ALWAYS willing to talk about my work.

One other comment... I think as artists we are often so grateful to have representation we will engage in relationships with galleries that are often detrimental to our career, not to mention our self-worth! I know I have been guilty of this. I also tell people, especially in the US, it may be different in Europe and other places ,to be wary of vanity shows, or vanity galleries. I question the incentive of these types of venues to sell work or support the artist. Maybe there needs to be a period of courtship between artist and gallery. Like dating, It is much easier to to get more involved or walk away if you go slow. Develop the relationship first........ don’t sleep with the gallery (so to speak) on the first date!

Cathexis, beeswax, oil and asphalt on canvas, 72" x 120", 2007
BS: Connie, you are a member of an international group of abstract painters called Pintura Fresca. Can you tell our readers more about Pintura Fresca and why you are involved with them?

CN: PF was started in France by artist Thierry LEBAILL. Pintura Fresca is an international group of abstract painters who met through the Internet and are now working together on various art projects. The essential drive of Pintura Fresca is to encourage dialog and demonstrate that articulate abstract expression still thrives and remains vibrant in the new millennium. What we propose, in contrast to being dead, as some critics and curators will lead the public to believe, abstract art has matured and grown in nuance and refinement of thought over the last century.

Membership in PF is by invitation only. However PF is currently recruiting new members from Africa, South America, Asia and Australia. Please send us a message if you are an abstract painter from one of these areas and would like to be considered for membership--

In 2007 PF exhibited in Singapore and Slough, outside of London. Slide shows of both exhibitions can be seen on the website, This year we have already been offered an exhibition at California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco and at Knauer Gallery at West Chester University in West Chester, PA

BS: Connie, you have been selected for prestigious residencies, including the Emaar International Art Symposium in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (2005), the Thupelo International Workshop in Cape Town, South Africa (2005) and the 6th Annual International Symposium of Art in Bulgaria (2006). Can you tell us about those experiences?

CN: With the exception of the Thupelo workshop in Cape Town, these experiences are actually called symposiums. Though similar to residencies, the idea is someone sponsors the event, such as Emaar in the UAE or the local government of Monastir Tunisia where I was last September. Thirty to fifty artists from all over the world are selected for each symposium. All expenses are paid lodging, studio, materials, food and sometimes even the ticket for the artists to attend. We paint together for 10 days to 2 weeks and then leave the work for the sponsors in exchange for the experience.
This has been THE MOST marvelous way to travel. I have met artists from all over the world and have become life long friends with many of them. During the symposium we get to know so much about each other, our lives and culture. Questions are asked, debates happen, barriers and biases that may have been present in the beginning are erased. In many instances communication through our visual language - painting, hands and smiles is enough. I am convinced that the governments of the world need to take a lesson from artists --- to develop more creative intelligence!!!

BS: How have those travels influenced you as an artist?

CN: It seems, because my work is so processed oriented, each experience becomes filtered through me into my art....and each time I come back to my studio, the paintings just seem to pour out of me. The Holding Patterns (on my website, work was done in 2 months after I came back from Africa for an exhibition at Spur Projects in California. I was shocked. I had this huge gallery to fill and actually produced enough to fill the gallery 3 times!!!

One image that I took away from Africa was of the barbed wire that was so much a part of the landscape that it became the landscape. It became a decorative element, a graphic metaphor for not only restraint, but for protection. The expression of that paradox -- between being safe and being stuck, between being held and being restrained – evolved into this exhibit.
The FLESH work was done after Bulgaria. There, I felt like I was brought back to life after having experienced a dreadful bout of clinical depression. Suddenly, all in one place was EVERYTHING that feeds me and my spirit- painting, the sea, kayaking, dancing every night until I couldn’t stand and love... I loved the artists there. We were like children, laughing and painting and playing. It was so difficult to leave. I am still very much involved with this work as the series continues,... and am dying to go back to that magical place which not too many people know about ( I am told).

BS: Connie, let us go into more detail about the work itself. Tell us more about the techniques and methods that you utilize...

CN: I am very materials based as an artist. I jokingly say I am the Materials Girl. When I was in San Francisco, where everything is recycled, I began painting with sludge. Sludge, the waste from past paintings, the gunk that is in the bottom of the jar, that builds up as you clean your brushes over and over. I would reuse the terp as it cleared and the sludge sunk to the bottom. Eventually however, I had a sludge farm- jars and jars of this gunk. So I started painting with it to see what would happen. I ended up using it as a jumping off place... much as I had the photograph in earlier days. This sludge was very unpredictable, it would crack at times like raku and became the underlying texture in the work.

More recently, after moving from SF, sludge became harder to come by, especially for all of the larger work I was doing, so I began experimenting with beeswax as a texture. I will do an under painting, put wax on the canvas in all sorts of different ways then paint as I had before with layers of glazes and whatever else I might add such as asphalt, graphite powder or these luscious powdered pigments that I still get from Sinopia in SF. The colors are so pure and transparent which is really conducive to the way I work. The underlying theme in all of my work, from the beginning, is about contrasts, dualities. Opposite emotions existing in the same space or where the internal meets the external. So mixing these materials, sludge, wax, asphalt etc. which are hardly considered beautiful, with this pure color is just another layer in the same theme.
Most recently, I have been working with other recycled materials. I shred everything I can get my hands on. I am still playing with different ways of incorporating paint with these raw shredded materials such as used studio gloves, old work that I never liked, plastic/wooden flowers, used nails. books , roofing paper etc. I recycled scrap from a house that was torn down in my old neighborhood and made a series of small panels called Refuse-Wall. It was a way to recycle resources and posed questions about beauty and usefulness. Not only were the materials of the building recycled, but through consumerism, the resource of money was regenerated. Proceeds went to Project Aids Orphans,, a charity two friends of mine started to help the orphans in Kenya.

Refuse- at sunset,recycled roofing paper, oil, resin on panel, 36" x 36", 2007

Refuse- Wall, recycled pieces of a demolished building, oil, resin on panel, each piece 14" x 9", 2007
Refuse- Through, recycled roofing paper oil, resin on panel, 36" x 36", 2007

BS: Would you say that you are focused on the process just as much as you are focused on the message that your work conveys to viewers? Or is the message the most important part?

CN: The process is very important in my work. It is intrinsic. Through the doing more ideas occur. I am an extremely kinesthetic person., very physical. I learn everything through my body, through doing. I will take notes when working, often writing on the walls of my studio. I have learned that my work HAS to go through some period of chaos or struggle . Without chaos the painting is lifeless.
Sometimes this chaos is short lived and the painting happens very fast. Other covers a much longer period. Usually when I am ready to throw the entire canvas out the window is when something new or unexpected happens and the way out of the chaos is clear. It seems when the piece is totally lost I surrender and there is nothing to loose by taking a risk. Afterwards I can say I LOVE these moments!!!

BS: At some point we all face someone who questions the validity of our work. Charges such as "painting is dead" are often muttered. Do you enjoy the challenge of defending your art? Is it a challenge?

CN: Pintura Fresca did an exhibition outside of London with that title, "Is abstract painting dead? I think the conclusion was that abstract work has changed over the last hundred years, is more nuanced and refined and anything but dead. Even as a photographer my work was abstract. One of my earliest influences and memories was of Steiglitz’s clouds, his "Equivalents", which were metaphors for internal emotional states. My work is a metaphor for emotional states - the pull between centripetal versus centrifugal emotional forces. The picture changes the more you look at it. It is actually possible for the viewer to learn something about themselves if they are so inclined to do so. As in life my art †is about interaction ,cause and effect. This fascinates me.

The viewer is very much part of the process in my work as each individual brings their own experience to the painting. There are multiple layers and complexities in my paintings. People see what they need to see in the moment. It is all projection. I don’t take it personally. Some viewers need the anchor in reality that figurative painting gives, but truly non-objective work it is about not-knowing. It is about experiencing the work without expectations. Sometimes it isn’t comfortable to be put in this situation with art or life!
To me the way someone responds to my work, often says more about the person looking than it does the painting. I had a couple in my studio looking at the same painting. It was a large painting, dark deep reds, many layers and an area of light. The woman couldn’t stop gushing how beautiful and inviting it was. On the flip side, the man thought it was evil and sinister. He said it scared him and he couldn’t live with it. ...and both views were perfectly valid!! I have done many workshops in looking at abstract work with the general public. It is wonderful when people finally get it -there is no right or wrong way of viewing this type of art.

BS: Connie, can you tell us more about your thought process as it pertains to your art? For example, are you more likely to be hit with an idea while going about your daily activities? Or is the 'light bulb' more likely to flash while you are in your studio, so to speak?

CN: I talked about this a bit in the previous question. But at some point all of this happens..the light bulb moment, the inspiration within the process of painting or from daily life Actually, I often get ideas while in the shower and seem to problem solve best in those moments between being asleep and waking up. It is important for me to write things down though, if I don’t... I lose it.

BS: Some people define success as the amount of wealth that you procure... others define it as the number of people you can inspire with your art. In your opinion, what makes an artist successful?

CN: I don’t really know. I think for each artist it is different. Right now as I mentioned before I am trying to support myself with my art. Fortunately I am doing well, and am incredibly grateful that there now seems to be a market that supports my work, but there is always room for financial improvement. Right now, I am pushing really hard painting and trying to get my name out there. It is difficult with out a posse of support. There is always another brass ring in regards to getting known.

What I would like? I could make a very lengthy shows, a good gallery in a major market which is supportive of my work and moving my career forward. I want success in the usual sense, reviews in major art publications, people lining up to collect my work, basically I want to be rule the world!! (Oh wait, that was the Material Girl!) But, honestly I believe that kind of success gives one the option to affect peoples lives in profound ways, which was the reason I tried my hand at therapy and is ultimately my goal with my art.
I wish I could say I didn’t need any of those material wants and would be perfectly happy to return to my fisherman’s cave on the Black Sea in Bulgaria. It is a very romantic notion. And a good escape, but the long term truth for me is very different. I want to do more than survive as an artist. I want to make a difference in peoples lives if only for a moment. I think art does that -I believe MY art does that.

Mining in the Modern World 01, beeswax, oil, asphalt, graphite powder on canvas, 48" x 36", 2008

BS: What do you have planned for 2008? Will you be involved with any upcoming exhibits?

CN: I was accepted into the ARTIST PROJECT which is a satellite show of Artropolis 2008,, The Artist Project is Artropolis’ key event dedicated to the independent artist. The second annual exhibition and sale will feature original work from a juried selection of 300 established and emerging artists who are currently unaffiliated within the gallery community. I will also be in an exhibition at Anna Bondonio Camandona Art Gallery in Alba, Italy at the end of May and am working on a few other opportunities which I can’t really talk about right now.

Pintura Fresca has two exhibitions coming up this year, one in San Francisco and the other in Pennsylvania. Right now, getting ready for the Artist Project, I am working on a new series called Mining in the Modern World. This can be seen at
Mining in the Modern World 03, beeswax, oil, asphalt, graphite powder on canvas, 48" x 36", 2008

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art?

CN: I think that about covers it. Thank you for your questions and allowing me the opportunity to participate in this process. As always any feedback is greatly appreciated.
You can learn more about Connie Noyes by visiting her website-- Connie is also a member of the community-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

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